Arm Knitting with Textured Yarns

Regular PLY contributor Maja Siska is here to show you how to turn your skein of textured bulky yarn into a wearable piece in less than 30 minutes. Take it away, Maja!


arm knitting 6Arm knitting works well for that special skein that is too beautiful to knit regularly, or just the latest crazy yarn off your wheel looking for a life of its own. Yes, you could wear the skein around your neck – but if you want something more “finished,” this is a good way to go.

How do you do it? Just use your arms instead of knitting needles. It makes gigantic stitches, which open into loops that show all the glory of your yarn.

It is child´s play – literally: I have taught it to a 7 and 10 year old and within half an hour they were proudly wearing their scarves.

I love arm knitting because it is quick and easy, it makes a proper item that you can wear multiple ways, you do not need a lot of yardage, and last but not least it allows your textured yarn to be seen in all its beauty.

Adapting Arm Knitting for Handspun
Depending on the length of the skein, I have begun with anything from 5 stitches for a long thin scarf to 12 stitches for a wider one. If you knit it and it is too wide and too short or the reverse, just rip it back and change the number of stitches; it will only cost you another 20 minutes or so.

For a cowl, I found the best way to close the loop is to make a scarf and then knot the two ends together into every other stitch or so with a bit of left over yarn. I leave about 2 inches of tails on these knots and they become a feature – rather than trying desperately to hide the seam.

An example:  approximately 35 yards (32m) of yarn, arm knitted across 9 stitches = 4 ft (120 cm) length, which works for a cowl.

And the most important rule: HAVE FUN!

arm kntting 2

For more information …

Here is just one video demonstrating this technique:


Maja headshot

Trained as an architect Maja is also a designer, artist, knitter and spinner. Anything wool is high on her list. She lives in Iceland on a farm with an array of animals.

On ravelry: majasiska.

PLY Away Sponsor: The Spinning Loft

One of our sponsors for PLY Away is The Spinning Loft – and today, Alison from The Spinning Loft is here to introduce us to her business and give us some sneak peeks of what she’ll be bringing with her to PLY Away! Here’s Alison …


Have you heard?  The Spinning Loft is both a sponsor and a vendor at PLY Away!

We were so excited to hear about PLY Away that we had to throw our hat in with Jacey and the PLY Away crew.  With such a great group of teachers and classes, fantastic vendors, and the backing from such an amazing publication, there was no way we could say “No.”  More importantly the conference is a perfect match to our mission: The Spinning Loft exists to help bring shepherds and spinners together through fleece, and in so doing, to help preserve rare breeds.

It’s our pleasure to work with shepherds and to make their wool available to our fellow handspinners. We seek out shepherds everywhere with quality rare and heritage breeds, from Hog Island here in Maryland to Gammelnorsk Sau (the wool that made the Viking ship sails!) from Norway. We have the distinct pleasure of making these fleeces accessible to spinners, explain what characteristics make the breed, and help them explore these breed’s unique qualities.

Alison holding a Hog Island lamb

Alison holding a Hog Island lamb

It is a great partnership that enables us to keep what we both love – the farms and the sheep – alive. The shepherds are compensated fairly for their work and the quality of the fleeces and we are able to introduce spinners to some really wonderful fibers.

That’s a big complicated mission, but it comes from a single starting point – a passion for wool.  I love doing this – I love the wool and I love to expound on its wonders.

I started spinning like so many do, with commercially prepared fiber. Then I learned how to process my own fleece from raw, attended my first breed study class, and began expanding my exposure to different breeds.

Beth Smith, then owner of The Spinning Loft, changed my relationship to wool forever. We attended her breed study class in which we explored 12 different breeds of sheep. We explored fine wools and coarse wools, crimpy wools and dual coated wools.  Wools from sheep I had never seen before. She also told us about the forthcoming book by Deb Robson that was all about the wool from different breeds of sheep.

I was hooked.

By the time The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook came out, I had sampled about 40 breeds – nearly all the sheep commonly available in the United States.  And when Deb did her book signing at Maryland Sheep and Wool, I stood in line for my copy and a signature … bouncing up and down so energetically that Deb declared she had “never seen someone so excited to buy a book about wool.” I simply loved the idea of the book so much – and the sheep – I couldn’t contain my joy and enthusiasm!

I have taken several breed study classes since and I have sampled over a hundred breeds (and counting). With every new breed I sample, I become more and more enamored with wool.  Every time I have the chance to try a new breed, I find myself just as giddy as the day I acquired my copy of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook.  It is this excitement and fascination in other spinners that I try to foster with The Spinning Loft, and it is particularly exciting when a brand new spinner – or a spinner brand new to breed study, or even a spinner brand new to a different breed – discovers all those breeds of sheep.

It was this passion that led me to buy The Spinning Loft from Beth.  We both wanted the mission to continue and to share the joy of All The Wools.  Sheep have so many different types of wool and so many uses for it, I’m just never bored.  Trying new wools is exciting – discovering their properties, what I can do with them, how they feel in my fingertips, how they spin, what the yarn looks like, what the finished object looks like.  It’s so easy to see why so many breeds have evolved – either through locality or through breeding for characteristics.  And it makes me sad when we face the loss of a breed of sheep – what characteristic of their wool and what features that enrich us will be lost too?

The Wall of Fleece

The Wall of Fleece

We generally have over 50 unique breeds in raw fleece in stock, as well as commercially prepared top, with more fleeces always on the way based on shearing schedules. That’s quite a Wall of Fleece.

We can’t bring the WHOLE wall with us to PLY Away – but we are certainly going to bring as much of it as I can pack into my truck.  Accompanying the Wall will be processing tools, wool scour, wash and rinse, and some of those valuable fleece guides and books about spinning different breeds into the yarn you want.


And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be bouncing with excitement to share a new breed sample with Deb Robson, Beth Smith, and all of you!

PLY Registration Rocked!

As the clocks clicked over to 10:00, everything went live.

I was nervous that I was throwing a party that nobody would come to (highschool was a tough time for everyone, right?) but at 10:01 we had 2 orders! The guides worked! Those first 2 spinners went through there like the wind! Or like somebody posted on Ravelry, like silk.

By 10:11 we were 48 registrants deep and Stephenie’s 2-dayer was sold out! By 10:20 Deb’s 2-dayer was gone too! Over the next hour over 110 spinners zipped through registration and by the end of the day we topped out at 150 spinners, most with full schedules.

Here’s how it shook out:

All the 2-day classes are sold out except for Coleen Nimetz’s Silk, the temptress unraveled, which is dangerously close to being sold out too! If you want this class, hurry, Coleen is amazing! I had her as my 1st year teacher in the Master Spinning program and she knows lots of secret things about silk!

There’s a bit more space in the 1-day Friday classes. Jillian’s Cheaper by the dozen class is long gone and it’s soon to be followed by Esther’s Wild Fibers class and Amy’s Sock it to me, both of which should be awesome and lots of fun.

The other 2, Illegal yarns and Technically Twisted both promise to be great but very different. Illegal Yarns is taught by the great Patsy Sue Zawistoski and she’s got such a brain in her head that I just want to walk behind her all day and hope some leaks out onto me. It’d be gross but probably worth it. Her class should be super fun and teach you how to break all those rules you want to break but are afraid to. Technically Twisted with Michelle is going to blow your mind! Michelle is the lead teacher for the Master Spinning Program and girlfriend can spin! She’s cutting her teaching down some after this so get in this class if you can! You’ll learn a ton, I can promise you that! If you can’t get in the 1-day, any half day with her would be worth your while!

The half day classes are a mixed bag. Many sold out right away (but some have other time slots available) and lots are on the brink. The totally gone ones are Deb’s and Jillian’s but Beth’s Going Steady which I may sneak into, is almost there as are all of Abby’s spindle classes and most of Amy King’s classes. Amy Tyler’s variations on long and short draw classes are also pretty full.

Ones that should be sold out but are only half full:

Silk Tasting: all the silk! Testing, trying, learning from a silk master! Seriously, I can’t believe there is any space! Did you read her silk articles in the Silk issue? Amazing!

Twist and Twine: If you have space for one more class, take this! Chris is so fantastic, you love her articles, she’s better in person!

Maximize your minis: I’m not as good at fiber prep as I should be so don’t be surprised if I totally crash Michelle’s classes! She knows so much.

Twist for Grist: If you want to know how to adjust the size and feel of your yarn, get in here! Michelle is great with twist and grist and again, she just knows a ton about spinning.

Wild Combing: It’s Esther, come on, the queen of texture!

There are a lot of great classes gone but there are still some gems to be had. I scheduled each of these classes/teachers based on how great I knew they would be, the things that I want to learn, and the people I want to learn them from. It’s going to be amazing no matter what classes you get! If you want to come, here’s the reg page!

And to those spinners that made yesterday such a success, thank you so much! And Jessica, man alive, you were outstanding!

A Little More About Consistency

Last month I talked about consistency and gave you a couple of my favorite tips but I left out the one thing I do at the start of every project. I make a sample card.

I know that lots of people love those spinner’s control cards with the diffeerent line thicknesses to compare your yarn to.  I have a couple of those laying around but I find I am more consistent over the whole project if I make my own and it only takes a minute.


I find it easier to compare the singles this way. My eye can see it easier and I spend less time trying to figure out if IColumbiasamplesmall am remembering the correct line or if the yarn was slightly inside the line or not. Check out my card. This is the card I used for the columbia yarn I am using for the skirt I made on my floor loom and the one that is currently being woven on my rigid heddle loom. So that’s about 10,000 yards of 2 ply that I needed to spin. Obviously, consistency of yarn was pretty important. And it all was spun using this lowly card as a reference.

This particular card is done on a blank index card. I also use those large shipping tags which are easy to attach to my wheel if I have a long term project happening.

It’s pretty simple. I take the singles and wrap them around the card several times. I just tie the ends together on the back. You can tape them but tape doesn’t necessarily staty stuck forever. This is my reference during the spinning of the singles.

I punch 2 holes in the card and make a ply back sample that is 2 ply and 3 ply. These are my references for a balanced ply. I don’t always match this exactly but it is my starting point. If I want a more drapey yarn I may put less twist and if I want a sturdier yarn or a more elastic yarn I might add more twist than the balanced angle. But I always have this reference of fresh twist as my refernce.

I make both a two ply and a 3 ply sample regardless of what my plan is for the yarn because I save some of these cards for future reference so I can avoid all of the sampling that happened before the start of the project. I have a lot of these cards.

On the card I write the kind of fiber and the preparation – this card should say roving corriedale1but I neglected to write that. I write the spinning method and often I will add the rhythm I’m using like 12 inch draft to 5 treadles. Again, I didn’t write that here but let me give you a photo of a card I did the right way. This Corriedale project card has all of the information I need to reproduce this yarn. Often I attach it to the swatch or sample I made with the yarn to make sure the yarn would work. All of these samples go into a bag with that breed so I can find them later.

I hope this extra little tip has helped. It’s so easy and has made a huge difference in my spinning projects that require more than 4 ounces of yarn.



Castles and Graffiti


By now most of you have received the Autumn 2015 Texture issue of PLY Magazine. This is my favorite issue so far! It is full of unique and inspiring techniques and projects, but I’m here to tell you more about the fantastic location for the shoot and one of the photos in the issue.

The issue was shot in Kansas City’s historic Workhouse Castle. The castle was built in 1897, and was originally designed as a city jail where petty offenders could work off their debt. The women repaid their debts by sewing prison uniforms, and the men labored for the city’s public works department. The prisoners mined limestone onsite and with it constructed the castle walls. The castle also housed the city’s poor and homeless during the cold winter months. Two decades later the castle became a city office building, and in the 1970s it was closed and abandoned. Without maintenance it fell into disrepair, and was subjected to such damage and vandalism over time that it became filled with tons of rubble and trash and was dangerous to enter.

In 2014 an amazing couple chose to put their wedding fund back into the community. Many volunteers cleaned up the castle (62 tons of trash!) and the couple (Daniel & Ebony) used the space as their wedding venue. You can read more about the transformation and continuing efforts here. We knew nothing about the restoration project when we chose the castle as our location, so we were thrilled to see the improvements. Meeting Daniel and hearing the story made it even MORE awesome.

Jacey’s favorite photo in this issue is the image on the back cover. I wish I knew the graffiti artist so we could give credit. The photo was captured through a tiny hole in an interior castle wall, through which the graffiti was perfectly framed. You can see the little hole in the wall in the following photo.


I’m so glad my curiosity led me to drag my stepstool to the wall so I could peek through the hole. When we saw the final shot, we knew it was a perfect fit for the texture issue. We have had a few requests for prints of the photo; we’re working on that and we’ll let you know when they’re available.


A lock in the wind

Taking my lumps and seeking advice

For the most part I can take critique. I can. In my 20s I was terrible at taking it but somewhere in my 30s I gained an appreciation for good critique — people telling me things that could make whatever it is I’m doing, better. For many people, and for me up until recently, critique usually comes from just a select few – a friend reading your article, a partner going over a story, a kid giving feedback on how exactly you could make dinner edible. But that’s changed. When you publish something like a magazine, your critiques come from all over, all the time.

And I should be okay with that. But since I’m also a person that likes to please everyone, getting feedback from dozens, hundreds, thousands of spinners can be a bit tough on the brain, you know? It’s impossible to please all those people but what about when your brain constantly tries?

I’m not complaining or whining. Really, I’m not. I’m looking for advice on how to deal with this internally, in my own head. I intellectually realize that I can’t possibly make every spinner happy. I totally realize that. But sometimes my brain is sneaky, uncontrolled, and it still wants to. And so when I get emails from spinners that think the print is too big, or too small, or that there should be less photos and more content, or that they’d like to see more big photos, or that there’s not enough weaving/crochet/knitting, or that they like the themed issues but only if they are interested in the theme, or that they’d like more advanced and technical articles, or that they’d like more beginner articles, or that they’d like it to be cheaper (I can’t fix that one without adding more ads), or that they’d like their mail carrier to deliver it quicker, or a hundred other things that I get emails about, my brain obsesses a bit.

Okay, who am I kidding? It obsesses a lot. I know it’s not rational. I do. But I can’t help it. I write and rewrite a response to them in my head for hours, sometimes all day. I can’t get past it. Some of my responses want to give them what they want, some are defensive, some explain in way more detail than anyone would want why I just can’t do it, or how it’s a delicate balance, or how on and on in my head.

I’m not looking for anyone to say that they shouldn’t write me, I’m glad that people do write, I actually value every email I get (except the very mean ones, but those only come in occasionally, twice a month or so), I’m just trying to figure out how to deal with it all.

Anyone have any ideas? Anyone have to deal with this kind of thing – being a people pleaser and hearing from lots and lots of people the various (and contradicting) ways to please them?

Jillian told me before I started the magazine that it would break my heart. It hasn’t broken my heart yet but it’s threatening to break my head! Actual advice very much appreciated!




I love a smooth, consistent yarn. I do. I love how that kind of yarn feels and drapes. I love to spin them too. I love the rhythm of it.

I’ve spent almost my entire spinning career working toward getting my yarns to be more consistent and learning what helps to make that happen. The great thing about all of that focus is that learning those things has helped me to be able to have the control I need to make almost any yarn that I try.

Every spinning skill that we learn transfers to so many other techniques.

So, let me give you two tips for how to be more consistent in your spinning.

Tip number one: When you are drafting using a short forward draw, draw out only about one half of the staple length for each draft. This will improve things almost immediately if you are sturggling with consistency. Do that with every draft and your yarn will improve.

Tip number two: get your hands and feet into a rhythm. This works with both woolen and worsted spinning. For example, say you are treadling at about the tempo of a waltz. 1,2,3 and 1,2,3. Now draft in the same rhythm. Draft, slide, hold and draft, slide hold. Often inconsistencies in yarn can come from inconsistencies in twist so if you can get your hands and feet to work together the twist will be pretty consistent over the whole bobbin.

If you are interested in knowing all of my tips for consistent yarn, I have a new video that was just released yesterday that’s called Spinning to Get Even. It’s from Interweave and is available as a DVD or a download. 


Where Does Spinning Lead You?

zoom-leaf-400x264 I was so excited to interview Diane Varney for this new issue of PLY. Her book, Spinning Designer Yarns, has been such an inspiration to so many spinners.

I was excited to hear what inspired her and to find out what she was spinning now. Except she’s not spinning now, not at all. She spun enthusiastically for a time, wrote the book, taught for a couple of years and then quit spinning. I was stunned. There is so much love of spinning and fiber her book, I assumed she would still be doing it 20 years down the road. It turned out that for Diane spinning lead her to other things, embroidery, metal work, and ultimately painting.

I’ve thought about that a lot since I talked to Diane. For me spinning had lead me to other things, but they also include spinning. I started stitching and instantly wanted to use handspun. I’m picking up weaving again and won’t pretend anything other than I’m most curious about how my handspun will behave in the loom. Spinning is so enmeshed in my craft thinking that every new craft I try includes spinning in some way, rather than just being a stepping stone to to other media. Twenty years down my road I’m sure I’ll still be spinning.

Where has spinning led you?

Proper Chairs

Don’t ask me about what chair to sit in when you spin. Don’t ask me about posture. I got nuthin’.

I will say that when you are learning to spin it is important to sit in a chair that is a height that allows you to reach the treadles. I think one with a back is nice.

I have always been a comfortable chair spinner. I sat on the couch when I was learning but at home I have a rocking recliner that I sit in.
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Sometimes I like a little stool off to the side so I can prop one foot up. The arm on this chair is just about right at my elbow so when i’m doing long draw I can prop my elbow and just move my fore arn back and forth. It’s very comfortable.

But last weekend I went to spin at Jillian‘s house and I sat in the spot I usually spin in. I like that spot. There is a table on my right side just like at home. I can put my cup there and it’s very comfortable.  One thing I noticed this time (and maybe it’s because I’ve been spinning so much lately) is that the arm on Jillian’s couch is much higher than the arm on my chair at home.20150830_102219_002 - Copy

Seriously, it’s like armpit height. That means I had to adjust my spinning technique. Instead of holding my arm at a 90 degree angle like at home, I held it straight out. See? I still found a way to use the arm rest and make myself comfortable.

I’m not saying that certain chairs don’t work better for different wheels. My Norm Hall Castle wheel has treadles that are a bit higher off the floor than the Schachts and it is a bit more heavy feeling to treadle and so I need a chair that is a tiny bit higher. That calls for Lou’s (Mr Beth) recliner with a pillow behind my back. It works great.

All I’m saying is get comfy when you spin. Try out all the chairs and try different sitting positions. And if you are very comfortable and your one foot is propped up and you are too far away to move the thread to a new hook, get your kid to do it, or teach your dog to do it. Not sure if the cat will, though.